"An important message for you!" the envelope blared. It was addressed to "Mr. Haflod (or resident)." And there was a note to the post office telling them not to bother to return the letter in case of non-delivery. It certainly didn't seem to be an important message. Whoever sent it got my name wrong and wasn't even interested in knowing if I received the "important message." I put it with the rest of the day's "junk mail," intending to look at it later, and forgot all about it. That's what usually happens to these "important messages" at our house — and at yours, too, probably. We are so inundated with "special offers," "supersavers" and "free" coupons that we hardly notice them anymore. But, conversely, a hand-addressed envelope from someone we know always gets immediate and serious attention. Did you ever think of your prayers as being like that? They are important messages addressed to God. He gets thousands of them every day, from His people around the world. But do we perhaps send God junk mail sometimes? James 5:16 tells us that the fervent prayers of righteous people obtain results. It follows, then, that unfervent prayers, even from righteous people, do not! And we all, from time to time, offer up "unfervent prayers."
Prayers may lose impact
God's Church is made up of praying people. Most of us pray at least once a day — the day seems incomplete without prayer. We have built the prayer habit. But therein lies a danger. Habits become routine and routine prayers can become filled with repetition and cliches. Junk mail is full of cliches: "especially for you," "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," "unrepeatable offer." After you have been told a few dozen times that "you may have already won," the phrase loses its impact, right? And so must our prayers lose impact in heaven if we mumble the same things in the same way day after day. Christ warned against using vain repetition (Matt. 6:7). Most of us have long since abandoned the these and thys and the standard litanies that pass as prayers in the churches of this world. But is there really that much difference between those repetitive worldly prayers and the monotonous incantations of the same prayer list day after day? Have you ever noticed how you can keep "praying" while your mind wanders to something entirely different? It is because you have become so used to praying that the thoughts run along well-worn grooves. Your lips can freewheel for a while even when your brain changes direction. Before you know it, "Bless Herbert W. Armstrong,'" "Help the Work" and "Keep Mr. [your minister] safe" become just "vain repetitions." Even asking "in Jesus' name" can become a cliche unless you deeply think about the meaning of what you are saying. Communication is becoming more and more routine in our modern world. My secretary will soon take my rough, preliminary copy of this article and type it on a computerized word processor. This wonderful machine lets her see on a television screen what she has typed. She can move words and even whole paragraphs around, until the article is how I want it. Then, by pressing a button, she can have the computer transfer the electronic image to paper, perfectly typed, faster than the eye can follow. Soon we will be able to add to our word processor a feature that automaticity checks and corrects the spelling. There are already computer-generated letters. You feed in the problem or question. The computer selects the appropriate answer, plus a suitable opening and closing, and there you have it — a personal letter — untouched by human hands!
Avoid depersonalized prayer
But prayer for the Work, for Mr. Armstrong and for each other must never become depersonalized. How can we avoid it? Here are some ideas: • Think about what you say. Plan your prayers carefully. Have you really thought through what you want to ask God? Is what you are asking logical? (I remember praying for Mr. Armstrong when he was visiting Australia once. I asked God to help him when he spoke to Church members at Sabbath services. But then I remembered that, although it was only 10 a.m. in Pasadena, Sabbath services had long since finished "down under." It was by that time early Sunday morning in Australia. I don't think God took that prayer too seriously.) • By all means have a prayer list, but don't let the list be a ball and chain. Keep it updated and specific. Make your list reflect the actual needs of the Work, your church and yourself from day to day. Check it over before You start. Have You ever found yourself praying for the healing of people who have already gotten well — or perhaps even died? Some such mistakes are unavoidable, but today we as a Church are better informed than ever before. We have The Worldwide News, the Pastor General's Report, church announcement bulletins and so on. So don't let your prayer list become a "prayer wheel." • Think about where you are when you pray. You are going boldly before God's throne of grace, with Jesus Christ by your side, to talk to your heavenly Father about important matters (Heb. 4:16).
God's throne is the center of power of this entire universe — a far more strategic center of power than the Oval Office at the White House or the throne room at Buckingham Palace. If you had been granted some time with U.S. President Ronald Reagan or Great Britain's Queen Elizabeth, you would choose your words carefully. You wouldn't dare waste the person's time, and you certainly wouldn't fall asleep during the interview! God is not short of time, and He wants us to think of Him as a loving Father rather than as a busy executive. He will give us all the time we need. But we should show the proper respect toward His high office. As begotten children of God, we should never abuse the privilege of being able to have the undivided attention of the Supreme Ruler of the universe whenever we ask for it. We must make the time we spend in God's presence count. • Ask God for help. Prayer is difficult sometimes — the words just won't seem to come. Some thoughts are hard to express. You feel like saying to God, almost in exasperation, "You know what I mean!" Yes — He does! If we are really trying to communicate, God will give us of His Spirit to help us. "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Rom. 8:26). And Christ our Intercessor, who knows what it's like to be human (Heb. 4:15), will see what is on our minds and help us get the messages across (Rom. 8:27).
Important messages to God
What would you do if you had to write to God instead of speak to Him? You would use your very best stationery and your neatest handwriting. If the prayer was to be typed you would see that it was perfect. You would make sure the message was addressed properly and that your return address was written clearly on the envelope. After all, it would be an important message, and if for any reason it could not be delivered, you would want to know about it. Fortunately, we can talk to God. But the same rules apply. In Hosea 7:14, God says He is angry with Israel because "they never put their heart into their prayers" (Moffatt translation). It isn't that God is hard of hearing. He wants to help. His ears are open to our prayers (Ps. 34:15), and He delights in the prayers of people who are trying to live His way (Prov. 15:8). God enjoys getting important messages from us. How disappointing it must be when our messages turn out to be junk mail.